Mediating Knowledges

Origins of a Zuni Tribal Museum

Gwyneira Isaac (Author)
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This book tells the story of the search by the Zuni people for a culturally relevant public institution to help them maintain their heritage for future generations. Using a theoretical perspective grounded in knowledge systems, it examines how Zunis developed the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center to mediate between Zuni and Anglo-American values of history and culture. By using in-depth interviews, previously inaccessible archival records, and extensive ethnographic observations, Gwyneira Isaac provides firsthand accounts of the Zunis and non-Zunis involved in the development of the museum.

These personal narratives provide insight into the diversity of perspectives found within the community, as well as tracing the ongoing negotiation of the relationship between Zuni and Anglo-American cultures. In particular, Isaac examines how Zunis, who transmit knowledge about their history through oral tradition and initiation into religious societies, must navigate the challenge of utilizing Anglo-American museum practices, which privilege technology that aids the circulation of knowledge beyond its original narrators.

This book provides a much-needed contemporary ethnography of a Pueblo community recognized for its restrictive approach to outside observers. The complex interactions between Zunis and anthropologists explored here, however, reveal not only Puebloan but also Anglo-American attitudes toward secrecy and the control of knowledge.
"Isaac brings into focus how Zuni formal and informal systems of knowledge are structured, and what that means in terms of establishing a museum. . . . By acknowledging the diversity of perspectives and the contested relations of power that inform this museum, Isaac provides critical insight into how cultural institutions achieve and maintain relevance within their communities."—Journal of Anthropological Research

"Isaac is a gifted writer. Her analysis is historically grounded, theoretically sophisticated, and subtly tuned to the intricate cultural dynamics at Zuni."—Wicazo Sa Review

"This study offers important insights for oral historians as well as for ethnographers, public historians, and anyone interested in complex philosophical issues of just who can be said to 'own' knowledge."—Oral History Review

"Isaac's account of this unique institution raises important questions about knowledge and power that are at the center of colonialism, Native American history, and public history."—American Studies
"The book is certain to set standards in anthropology and museum studies for many years to come."—Journal of Folklore Research

"A well-researched and readable account of the museum’s struggles to find its identity. . . . Isaac’s discussion of the difficulties of mediation is as rich as her exploration of epistemology."—American Ethnologist
"A rich, dense, and often evocative book . . . [that] casts light both on Zuni and Anglo-American concepts of knowledge. It is heartily recommended."—Journal of Museum Ethnography
Mediating Knowledges
272 Pages 6 x 9 x 0.8 Published: 2018 Hardcover (9780816526239)
Paperback (9780816537976)

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